Posted in Church History, Doctrine

Three New Arguments (on the Instrumental Music Question)

The churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ have been formally recognized as two groups of people at least since 1906. The division occurred over the formation of the American Christian Missionary Society and the introduction of mechanical instruments of music into public worship. D. S. Burnett played a prominent role in the establishment of the society, and L. L. Pinkerton of Midway, Kentucky was involved in the innovation regarding music. Pinkerton, in a letter to Ben Franklin, said, “So far as known to me, or, I presume to you, I am the only ‘preacher’ in Kentucky of our brotherhood who has publicly advocated the propriety of employing instrumental music in some churches, and that the church of God in Midway is the only church that has yet made a decided effort to introduce it” (Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. I, p. 311).

In passing years as more and more brethren demanded the change in worship, much discussion, disagreement, aggravation, tension, and separation followed. It was a sad time for the church.

Over the years many debates have been held on the music question. One of the greatest debates on the issue of scriptural music in worship was between N. B. Hardeman and Ira M. Boswell held in 1923 in Nashville, Tennessee. Boswell contended that the Greek word, “psallo,” used by Paul in Ephesians 5:19 and translated in our ASV as “making melody,” permitted the use of a mechanical instrument in worship. In his first affirmative speech he declared that he was attempting to prove that “To sing with or without instrumental music is scriptural” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 29). Neither Boswell nor any other disputant of whom I am aware ever committed himself to the position that the New Testament obligates worshipers to worship with a mechanical instrument of music in the song service.

Hardeman admitted that some instrument inhered in the word “psallo.” He took the tack that “psallo” did demand some kind of instrument. But in the passage, the particular instrument that Paul named is “the heart.” Boswell resorted to much lexical evidence for the Greek word which indicated that some instrument of some kind inhered in the word, but then he would not draw the conclusion that Christians today must use that instrument, whatever it was. In his second speech, Hardeman said, “It seems to me that Brother Boswell is in this kind of a predicament: First, God demands it. The word means it, and you cannot do what ‘psallo’ means without the use of the musical instrument. That is Brother Boswell’s contention, as from the lexicons to which he has referred; and then the next part is, notwithstanding the word means that and notwithstanding that idea inheres in it, yet I can leave it out” (Hardeman-Boswell Debate, p. 56). This was a fantastic moment in the history of the discussion!

In the debate Boswell’s weak position was completely routed, and Hardeman took the correct position on the music issue including proper handling of the word “psallo.” Hardeman’s effort was masterful. And when he took the position that the Greek word, “psallo,” did, in fact, demand an instrument, his approach was a complete surprise to Boswell. Boswell did not expect it!

In Hardeman’s biography we learn that Hardeman viewed his debate with Boswell as his best (James Marvin Powell and Mary Nelle Hardeman Powers, N. B. H., p. 195). We also learn the following:

Some twenty years after the debate, Hardeman met Boswell in Louisville, Kentucky. He told Boswell that he had heard that Dr. Carey Morgan, who at the time of the debate was pastor of Nashville’s Vine Street Christian Church, and J. J. Walker had stayed up nearly all night after the first session of the debate, trying to answer Hardeman’s argument, and revamp their own arguments. Boswell said that was true. Hardeman and Boswell remained friends through the years, though their paths did not often meet. There was mutual respect though their views were poles apart” (N. B. H., pp. 195, 196).

The issue has been debated much, and the history of the debates has revealed that on the polemic platform, mechanical instrumental music in worship has never been proved to be authorized by the New Testament, while singing without the accompaniment of any mechanical instrument of music in worship has been conclusively proved to be authorized.

Our preachers have defended the truth on the issue for years. Sadly, too many brethren now alive have become ignorant of history and are completely out of touch with Bible authority and, therefore, find mechanical instruments in worship harmless, appealing, and acceptable. How tragic!

Finally, let me by way of three new arguments, add to the history of the defense of the truth regarding scriptural music in worship. Consider the following:

First Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorized both singing and playing, then the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.
  2. The Old Testament authorized both singing and playing (Psalm 149:1; Psalm 87:7).
  3. Then, the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing.

Second Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament distinguished singing from playing, then the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.
  2. The Old Testament distinguished singing from playing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150).
  3. Then, the authorization to sing by itself did not authorize playing anymore than the authorization to play by itself authorized dancing.

Third Syllogism:

  1. If the Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing, then the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
  2. The Old Testament authorization to sing did not by itself authorize playing or dancing (Psalm 87:7; Psalm 149:1; Psalm 150; Ezekiel 33:32).
  3. Then, the New Testament authorization to sing cannot by itself authorize playing or dancing.
Posted in By Weylan Deaver, Doctrine, Old Testament

From Believer to Rebel

By Weylan Deaver

Having been mercifully delivered from Egyptian slavery, Israel hurriedly followed up with complaining at Rephidim for lack of water (Exodus 17:1-7). God instructed Moses to take his staff and strike the rock at Horeb, from which water would then flow. Moses obeyed. God sent water. Moses named the place “Massah” and “Meribah” after the people’s quarreling with and testing of the Lord.

Flash forward forty years. Israel has yet to enter Canaan, but the wilderness wandering is nearing its end. They are back at Kadesh (where the ten spies had given their negative report so many years ago). With a chance to make a better showing than their predecessors, the new generation of Israelites, instead, shows themselves cut from the same cantakerous cloth as their forebears (Numbers 20:1-13). They complain for lack of water. God instructs Moses to take the staff, but, this time, speak to the rock, after which water would flow. Instead of talking to the rock, Moses talks to the people and then strikes the rock. Twice. God still sends water, but accuses Moses of both disbelief (v. 12) and rebellion (v. 24).

The two scenarios, separated by four decades, were nearly identical, with Moses at the center of each. The people had not changed, but the directions God gave Moses had. If some of us do not think it matters much, maybe we should ask Moses. Consider three significant truths.

First, the same act can be obedience one time, but rebellion the next. When Moses struck the rock in Exodus 17:6, he was obedient. When Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20:11 he was rebellious. Incredible? Not if we are duly impressed that God means what he says. After all, God is not obligated, once having provided water, to provide it again in exactly the same way.

Second, historic divine precedent does not necessarily establish present divine approval. Think of it. When God accused Moses of rebellion at Kadesh, Moses could have replied, “Lord, I simply followed the instructions you gave me last time around.” Moses could claim divine precedent for his actions at Kadesh. After all, God had told him at Rephidim to strike the rock. But past instruction from God is not normative if it differs with present instruction from God. In his lifetime, regarding what to do about a rock, Moses received differing instructions from God. How much more, then, should we appreciate the difference that obtains between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

Third, God tested Israel and Moses, and God will test us. “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2, ESV). Part of the reason for divine instruction is to weed out those who refuse to keep it.

Consider a growing trend among some churches of Christ to use instrumental music during worship. No precedent can be found in the worship of the church during the first century. But, how many times is an appeal made to the Old Testament in an effort to establish divine precedent for musical instruments in New Testament worship (e.g. Psalm 150)? According to the rationale, we are supposed to think that, if God had it back then, then surely he would not object to having it today.

Yet, that is precisely where we can learn a lesson from Moses. Remember, the same act can be obedience one time, but rebellion the next. God told Israel he tested them to see whether or not they would actually keep his commandments. And remember, historic divine precedent does not necessarily establish present divine approval. The Old Testament has many elements which, were they brought into the church’s worship, would be sinful. If these are not legitimate lessons taught by what Moses did, then, pray tell, what can we possibly learn from the accounts (don’t forget Romans 15:4)?

Moses followed a God-given precedent at Kadesh when he struck the rock. The problem was, the old precedent from Rephidim (strike the rock) had been superceded by new instruction at Kadesh (speak to the rock). Failure to comply with the new made Moses–on that occasion–an unbelieving rebel. Question: What does it make Christians who refuse to abide solely by New Testament instruction? While the gospel of Christ does not tell us to worship by playing on any manmade musical instruments, it does tell us to speak to each other in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19). Ponder that point. When he failed to simply speak to the rock, Moses was in rebellion. Perhaps many in Moses’ day would have considered it a non-issue whether Moses struck or spoke to a rock. Doubtless many today consider a piano in worship a non-issue. But the tenor of Scripture indicates otherwise. Nor is the Bible shy of reminding that “our God is a consuming fire,” into whose hands “it is a fearful thing to fall” (Hebrews 12:29; 10:31).